Monday, May 30, 2011

What's in a name?

Warning: This post is quite long, and isn't about writing, and tells you stuff about me as a person and not as a writer.

Since it was mentioned by a couple of people in the comments on my last post, I'll tell you the story behind my multiple surnames. The story itself isn't that exciting but it does bring up an interesting topic, that of pen names.

I've read a lot about pen names, written by people both for them, and against them. Here's my issue, and the reason why I've only just added my surname to my blog. I wanted the name on my blog to be the one I would use if I ever do get published but I didn't know what that name would be. Not because I wouldn't want friends and family to know I'd got a book out – who's going to buy it if not them? – but because I don't know what my name will be when that day comes.

I have no emotional attachment to surnames. I had my Father's name when I was born, which was nice of him as he didn't give me much else. The funny thing is he didn't even give me that really, the way my name is spelled on my birth certificate is different to how he spelled it for his own use. (He also made up four first names for himself. Honestly. I first saw a copy of my birth certificate when I was ten and thought I actually had a different father than the one I was led to believe was mine!)

After being in care, I was fostered at the age of ten. My foster parents decided I should have their name. Apparently this is unusual when there are no plans to adopt. I wasn't happy about this. I'll admit, the biggest problem I had with this idea was that they had the most common surname in England and I liked the one I had already, it wasn't a family loyalty thing, at this point I had no family. I complained, but the voices of ten-year-olds aren't very loud and it was done. They really should have done it officially, getting a passport was a terrible struggle, but luckily little girls don't have that many official documents so by the time I was an adult the name was mine.

In the meantime, at the age of fourteen I'd met and formed a relationship with my birth-mother. At the age of eighteen I was asked by my foster mother to leave their home. It was a good idea and one that neither party ever regretted. A year later I moved across the country to live near my mum and her family. She lived with a man who she'd been with since not long after leaving my Father. When I was 20, she married this man. (He's the man I call Dad) I took their name. This time I did it by deed poll. It was much easier to get a new passport.

Six years later, I got married and took my fourth surname. The one I now have. Seven years ago my marriage broke up. I now have a new partner who I expect to be with for the rest of my life (as much as any of us can expect these things, anyway). Which brings me to today. My ex-husband and I never got divorced. We'll probably do it when the girls are sixteen, when judges won't be anxious to 'fix' childcare arrangements that are not broken. I keep his surname purely because it's the same as my daughters and it makes my life easier. I suspect I'll change it when I divorce, but to what? Techno's name? That's a strong possibility, although I doubt we'll marry; or the last name I had before I got married? Another contender. The one thing I was quite sure of was that I didn't want my ex-husband's name on a book I'd written. So I was dithering about which of the other two choices I should use for my blog.

Then something one of my girls said to me a week or so ago, made the decision for me.

“When you have a book published, I can't wait to show my friends at school.”

She has three years of school left. I didn't have the heart to tell her she'd probably be out of school and university before I ever get a book published, but it did make me realise. That surname I'm not bothered about? It's not just my ex-husband's name, it's my daughters' name too. So, for Diva and Blue, the first book I ever get published will be by Sarah Pearson. Whatever my name really is by then.

When I originally wrote this post, there was lots more stuff in it about my life that was nothing to do with names. It was fun to write though. I think I will write that autobiography after all!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Notice anything different?

Did you notice anything different about my blog today? No? Have a look around. I'll wait.

Yup. The eagle eyed among you might have noticed that I have replaced my lovely picture, drawn by Diva, with a photograph. Of me. Also, I've actually put my surname on my blog. So when you don't see my pink haired girl in your comments section, it's not because I've disappeared but because I've moved from fantasy to reality.

When I started my blog, I had every intention of putting up a photograph from the beginning, but when I looked through my pictures the only one I had that I was prepared to share was one of me with pink hair. (Hence the artwork I chose to use).

The problem is that picture is about six years old and I don't look anything like that any more. Now I know this isn't a dating website but still, one day I might actually be trying to find an agent, or publicise a book, so I thought it would be a good idea to actually look vaguely like my blog photograph. And I'll be totally honest, the reason it took so long to get a new picture was because I had to wait until I'd had my roots done. I don't mind keeping it real but even I have my limits :)

I didn't have my surname on my blog simply because I didn't know which one to use. (That's a post for another day) I've chosen now so I'm all set. If I keep this up, soon I'll be a real blogger!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

First I laughed, then I cried

After the post I wrote last Friday about finding critiquers, this post from The Intern on Monday was perfect timing.

Then yesterday, on AuthorCulture, I saw this video. Yet more proof that a small change in words can make a big difference.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

I thought of it first!

Before I start, I just wanted to say thanks to those of you who commented on my last post. I have some ideas now about how to go about finding readers and becoming part of the critiquing world. I'll let you know how it goes :)

Yesterday I was searching through some old writing files for details of a Writers Bureau course I started years ago. (I had thoughts about going back to it, but that's a story for another day). I'm talking about honest-to-goodness paper files here, from before I owned a computer. I was somewhat amused to come across my 'ideas' book. I've had this book since I was in my early teens. Anything that I thought might have the remotest potential has long since been transferred to my computer but I can't bear to throw the book away.

I've copied the following outline exactly as it was written in my book, including punctuation. Bear in mind I was about fifteen years old at the time!

A teenage girl marries. Soon realises it is a disaster. Husband an alcoholic, beats her and often rapes her. Eventually at 18, she gets pregnant. Final straw when he pushes her down the stairs in a drunken fit, causing her to miscarry – a fact she doesn't discover until later – she butchers him up with a carving knife, leaves him for dead, takes the car and starts a new life. 10 years later she's remarried and has twins. A man starts following her. It is her husband who wasn't dead after all – he' s tracked her down and he wants revenge for the stabbing which has left him in a terrible way. Her life is in danger when he kidnaps her daughter in an attempt to lure her to her death – then they fall for each other all over again.

I'll be honest here. I seriously considered omitting that last line from this post, I was so embarrassed by it.

then they fall for each other all over again.

I don't know what I was thinking when I decided that was a good ending. It's probably safe to say that these days no writer would think of ending this type of story like that, and if they did, no agent or editor would accept it.

(I was amused by the fact that whilst completely avoiding the issue of accidental bigamy, or any mention of her new husband, I deemed it important that she 'takes the car').

The reason I'm posting this today (apart from the obvious chance to give you all a nervous giggle at the insight into my teenage mind), is because underneath all the melodrama and plot holes I think that I had the tiniest seed of a good idea back in the 1980's. Hollywood must have agreed with me. Sleeping with the Enemy anyone? I remember the first time I saw the film. I told anyone who would listen (and a few more who wouldn't) how that was my idea and the success of the film obviously proved that if only I had written it, it would have been a best-seller. Obviously. Never mind the fact that I'm not Julia Roberts, not to mention a dozen other reasons why my assertion was wrong. You know what the biggest reason was? Yes of course you do. I didn't write a word of the damn thing. Ideas are easy. I've got loads of 'em. Some of them are even good; but they're not worth a bean until they become part of an interesting plot with well drawn characters. Almost three decades later, that's the part I'm still working on. (I also know now that two people can have the same idea and produce two totally different stories).

Did any of you ever have an idea that you thought was great, only to see it turn up later somewhere else?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Searching for that special someone

I need some help from you, my very small but oh so beautifully formed group of readers. I'm not ready for beta readers or critiquers (is that the right word?) yet but one day soon I will be. Now before you panic and click away, pretending to yourself that you never saw this post, I'm NOT asking for volunteers! What I am asking for is some hints on what would be a good way to go about finding such people. I know that it's a two way street, and actually that excites me. I'd love the chance to critique someone's work, I just don't know how much use to anyone I would be right now. Everything I know about writing I've learned from the internet. No-one has ever read what I've written, I've not been on any courses and I only own a few books on the craft of writing (although to be fair, one of them is Stephen King's awesome On Writing). I know lots of other people are in the same situation and I only mention it so you can see why I don't feel qualified to critique anyone's work yet.

Obviously I make it a point to read as much as I can about the actual craft of writing. Somewhere in my perusings I came across a post linking a site that was a good place to join to get to know people with a view to finding a critique partner, but I'm darned if I can find where I filed the link. I'm asking for your advice at this early stage of my WiP because I'm guessing it could take time to find someone who is comfortable enough with me to let me see their work and vice versa.

So here's where you lovely people come in. What I want to know is what skills should I be developing to become a good critiquer? (still not liking that word). Is there anything specific I should look for when trying to find a critique partner, and are there any sites that you can recommend as being a good place to find like- minded people?

Finally, how important do you see beta readers? I use that term to mean people who may not necessarily be writers themselves, but who enjoy reading and are prepared to say what worked and what didn't for them, even if they can't say why. I sort of have a beta team. That would be Diva and Blue. I was concerned that if I let them read anything they might go too easy on me. On Wednesday, Blue asked if she could make a few notes on a three page outline I'd typed for a possible project. After reading her notes (written in red pen of course) I know that at least one of them isn't afraid to tell it like she sees it! Don't worry, I've almost recovered :)

PS If anyone needs 14 year old beta readers I know two who will work for chocolate - and Playstation privileges :)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

MYWYN Update 2

I thought it was time for another update on my May – You write your novel project. As I'm sure you know by now this is where participants write 80,000 words in 80 days. That's the only 'rule'. Luckily for me there isn't another rule that says you need to write 1,000 of those words per day .

Today is day 18 and my word count is – drum roll please – 12,812. Yes, you read that right. I've managed to fall over 5,000 words behind in less than three weeks. For the past few days, I've only managed a few hundred words a day, most of which I've deleted the next time I've sat down to write. I've finally admitted (temporary) defeat on the story I'm working on.

I've tried, but I'm not a 'pantser'. I don't need a detailed outline but I do need more than a couple of characters to be able to write a story. I've given myself until tomorrow to decide between two other ideas I have, and I'm going to start one of those instead. One is, I think, a really good idea but it might require some complicated plotting to make the story work as I want to tell it. The other is one that I keep promising my girls I will write as it's a subject dear to their hearts. I'm just not sure there's a full length novel in it. I'm still undecided but I have to make a choice soon as I have a lot of catching up to do!

I'm determined that I will have finished something by the end of this challenge, but to do that I really need to start again. I think I should stop calling myself a writer until I've actually managed to type 'The end' on something longer than a blog post.!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

This is a blog about writing, honest

Yesterday was mad around here. Techno has been suffering from toothache for days which, aside from the obvious, involves him doping himself up to the eyeballs, sleeping in odd places and at random times and asking me 'if it's not too much trouble' to cook him different things from the rest of us at stupid o'clock. Which of course I do because, well, I don't know why but I do. We have an emergency dental appointment today. I say 'we' because I have to go too. I'm hoping it will be better than last week's emergency appointment which seems to be what's caused this latest problem.

As well as poor Techno wafting around the place like the spectre at the feast, I had both the girls off school yesterday. They complained in the morning about not feeling well. Diva had a mock GSCE test that she was determined to go in for and kept trying to tell me she was 'fine'. I was vindicated when she threw up an hour later, at which point she stopped pretending she was okay and went to sleep. They're both fine today thankfully.

ETA Blue was sick in the middle of one of her mock exams. She insisted on staying to finishing it so they let her carry on in the nurse's office then sent her home when she threw up again. My poor little munchkin is now fast asleep upstairs.

Today is my birthday and the day I get to try a piece of the cake that the girls made for me on Sunday. The cake that they used crunchy peanut butter for the filling and that has been in the fridge for two days. It's the thought that counts.

Sorry this isn't a writing related post but things are going a bit wonky on that front for me at the moment. I'll probably witter on about that next time. In the meantime, so as not to get done under the Trades Description Act whilst referring to this as a blog about writing, I have some excellent links to share with you.

The beautiful Talli Roland is publicising this competition in which India Drummond is giving away five kindle copies of her new book Blood Faerie when it's released on June 1st. I also have to thank Talli for including the link to Kindle for PC in her post. After I downloaded it, I checked out Amazon and ended up downloading a ton of free ebooks.

This open letter from Adam Rex struck a chord with me, and I don't even write childrens books.

Six signs you're not ready to make a living as a professional writer made me laugh, in that uncomfortable 'It's funny because it's true' way. I think I'm only guilty of one of these, or maybe two, but I'm not telling you which ones!

Finally, I'm including this Interview of a Librarian just because. If you don't read any of the rest of it, read his last thoughts. Although, I suspect I'm preaching to the converted there.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Dear Blogger...

Dear Blogger,

We haven't known each other very long but I thought we were getting on quite well. In the interests of preserving this relationship, I have a few requests.

Please let me post comments on the blogs I visit. My friends work hard for my entertainment and education, the least you can do is allow me the chance to tell them I appreciate it.

Please give me my comments back that people have left on this blog. They tell me that others are reading what I write and let me get to make new friends. Also, I don't have so many comments that I don't notice as soon as you steal them, so give them back and we'll say no more about it.

Finally, please allow me to publish the post that I've been trying to put up all day today. I will try again tomorrow, hopefully by then you will stop telling me that my blog doesn't exist. This does a person's ego NO good.

I'd like to stay friends with you but you have to work with me here Blogger.

Love Sarah

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

My Life, Unwritten

I received an email this morning from an old school friend which was perfect timing for a post I've been thinking about writing since I started this blog. In my last email to him I mentioned my writing and he asked what my book was about.

they say the best thing to write about is things that you know/have experienced your self - so is it some kind of semi-autobiographical romance novel about the triumphs and tribulations of a strong willed foster kid, her quest for love and happiness, and the men she meets along the way, and who makes it good in the end ??

Now, I'll be honest – if I read what my friend has written as blurb on the back of a book I probably wouldn't open it. It sounds a little dull doesn't it? That's one of the reasons that I would never write an autobiography for publication. Unless I ever become famous/infamous and someone tries to do a hatchet job on me, in which case I will have to respond, but as that's highly unlikely I think we can go with 'never'. That's not to say I didn't have thoughts about writing one, just for my girls to read. I've been thinking about this for some years now, ever since The Freedom of Information Act meant that I was entitled to receive all the notes kept on me from my time in care (and boy was that an eye opener!)

When I first heard about May – You Write Your Novel I decided that it was the perfect opportunity for this particular project, but when I thought about writing it I realised there were parts of my life that I don't want my girls to read about. Not only do I not want them – or anyone else – to read about them, I don't even want to write about them. Ever.

So here's a question, is it still an autobiography if everything that's written actually happened, but everything that actually happened isn't written?

Monday, May 9, 2011

MYWYN Update 1

So May – You Write Your Novel is on day nine. How am I doing?

I'm keeping up to the target. My official count at the moment is 8847 but that doesn't include today's total of which I've so far written about 500 words so I'm over the magic 9000 words mark. I've found it harder than I expected to write 1000 words a day – it's more likely to be 2000+ every two days – but that's due to other things happening. I'm working on that. For now, I'm happy to be keeping up.

The way I'm writing this novel is a real departure for me. As I explained here, at the last minute I chose to try writing something based only on a vague outline I had of a few characters. I've never worked on something where I didn't at least think I knew the ending, even if I changed my mind along the way. So far, it's gone surprisingly well. Every time I sit down to write I wonder if today is the day that I have to give in and plot something out, but so far so good. It has to be said though, that I haven't read anything back yet so how much of what I've written will actually be usable is debatable. I know there's at least one thread that, at the moment, is just hanging in mid air so will either have to be deleted or added to in the first edit. In chapter two, my MC briefly met someone and learnt something about her that was really amazing. I'm now on chapter four and this hasn't been mentioned since. I'm sure there are other places where similar things are occurring but isn't that what edits are for?

One thing I really wish I'd done from the beginning is create my usual 'bible', where I list names, places, descriptions etc. as I'm writing. The story is going so well at the moment that I'm scared of jinxing it if I read it back so it'll have to wait, and I'll just have to try and remember people's names as I go along!

So, for now, I'm very happy with the way things are going. Here's to another week!

Friday, May 6, 2011

What failing has taught me

I originally titled this post 'What failure has taught me'. I changed it because, in my mind (and this is just my thoughts, not a literal definition!), 'Failure' is what you are, whilst 'failing' is what you did. To put it another way: When Diva and Blue were little, if one did something daft and the other called her 'stupid' I would always correct them by saying 'what she did was stupid but she isn't stupid'. It took a while for them to understand what I meant but they got there eventually. Of course these days they call each other far worse but unless there are actual offensive and/or swearwords involved I let them get on with it. Indeed, some insults that teenagers come up with can be quite inventive. It was important to me that they learned the difference between what a person is and what they do. I grew up being told often that I was stupid and that sense of failure never quite leaves you. Thankfully that's not something that affects my girls.

I still haven't read the final draft I submitted to the competition. I will one day because the changes that Techno suggested are good ones and I think it could turn out to be a great short story. I'm just not ready yet. The whole experience has taught me something important though and it's that if I'm not totally convinced that there is nothing I can do to improve my story then I'm not going to submit it anywhere. Of course that's different to being convinced that the story is perfect, but I'm pretty sure you understand what I mean. One of the many reasons that I write is because it makes me feel good. Why do I want to replace that with a feeling that I let myself down? The old adage is true 'You never get a second chance to create a first impression'. The first impression I gave the people judging this competition (in my opinion, I haven't actually asked them, obviously!) is that whilst I might have some talent as a storyteller I fail in the execution of detail and presentation. This last is particularly annoying as the one thing I pride myself on is presentation. It's the one area where I have total control. I can't guarantee that someone will like my work but I can guarantee that it's spelt correctly and that I've used words that mean what I think they mean (wear and where, anybody?).

I'm very lucky in that the people who now have this less than stellar impression of me are people who (hopefully) I'm not going to come across again in the course of my writing career – unless of course I go to work for Alibi TV in which case I'll just change my name – but imagine that was an editor, or agent. Realistically, they wouldn't remember me if I chose to send them something in six months time, but the fact is I would always wonder and because of that I probably wouldn't send them anything. This industry is difficult enough without shooting yourself in the foot.

I'm not a failure, I failed. I'll fail again. Next time, I won't be the one who engineers it.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

How not to win a writing competition

20 easy steps to guarantee failure.

1. Find out about a competition ten days before the closing date and convince yourself that you can produce something of a high enough standard to enter, even though you rarely write short stories because you have trouble with the 'short' part.

2. Spend the next five days writing your story, even though you're not one hundred percent sure that you've managed to interpret one of the required elements correctly. Edit and re-edit until you've made it as tight as you possibly can.

3. Congratulate yourself on being 1000 words below the required maximum word length.

4. Re-read the rules and discover that you're 1500 words over the maximum word length.

5. Spend four days trying to reduce the word-count without destroying the original story.

6. Read the finished story immediately because you don't have time to let it sit like you'd planned. Realise that you now have something so flat that it reads like an example on a 'how not to write' blog.

7. Read it to your beloved partner, even though he has a history of sending you back to the drawing board, because you need another opinion and he's the only one around.

8. Listen to, and agree with, his suggestions which involve you going back to the drawing board.

9. Struggle with writing a new opening. Write a rubbish one for now just so you can continue. Realise 1000 words into your new effort that you're boring yourself. Screw up latest effort and throw it across the room.

10. Go to bed.

11. Wake up the day before the competition deadline determined to get this right. Spend the day making some progress, realise that you're going to be working late into the night.

12. Spend the evening watching DVDs with your daughters because they came home a day early after being away for a week and they want to spend time with you. Go to bed late.

13. Set your alarm clock for 9am. Dream that your competition entry should have been posted instead of submitted online so that when your alarm goes off you think you've missed the deadline. Go back to sleep.

14. Jump out of bed in a panic at 10.30am, realise that you have no time to finish your rewrite.

15. Have a quick read through of your original entry. Decide that it would sound better in present tense. Rewrite and do a quick spell check. Realise you have 15 minutes to deadline, so submit story without even a read through.

16. Be too ashamed to read it back even after it has been been submitted as you know there are formatting errors, and probably a ton of typos, and it's too late to do anything about it.

17. Resolve never ever to submit anything to a competition again that you are not proud of, and thank the writing deity of your choice that no-one, except the judges, will ever read what you wrote.

18. Hope that the judges of a competition for a TV station will never judge any other writing competitions and be glad that you don't have an unusual name that would stick in a judge's mind.

19. Make a note to check the competition website on June 1st to read the three that did actually make the short-list.

20. Go and work on your novel.

Monday, May 2, 2011

80K in 80 Days

I submitted my competition entry on Sunday. I might blog about it later if I can get over feeling embarrassed about it, but for now I have something much more fun to talk about, and that's my next project.

Remember this post? I said I had a new idea that I couldn't start until May. Well, it started yesterday, and it is – as I think my post title may hint at – 80k in 80 days. Yep it's that simple. A whole bunch of us are going to try and write a novel in 80 days, and cheer each other on while we do it. The lovely little badge to the right is designed by Dawn Amos. 'MYWYN' stands for May – you write your novel. Does exactly what it says on the tin!

Due to circumstances beyond my control (domestic duties) I've actually started today. I'm only about 500 words in at the moment but intend to be caught up by bedtime. Oh, and I'm not working on the YA sci-fi that I thought I was going to be. It's, well, I don't know. All I have is a courier, a child, a mysterious bad guy and freak environmental conditions. For the first time I'm going to have a go at writing something without having much (or any) idea of the beginning, middle or end. It should be interesting!

Thanks to Sally Quilford for coming up with the idea, and setting up the blog so we can all (okay, me) be impressed by how much everyone else has written and GET ON WITH OUR OWN. Okay, I'm going, I'm going. Wish me luck that at least half of today's 2000 words will make sense!